In 2017, after medical marijuana use was legalized in the state, the City of Hamilton placed a temporary prohibition on medical marijuana dispensaries in store fronts until rule-making was done by the state of Montana. Since then the rule-making has been done but the City hasn’t taken any action.
According to City Planner Matthew Rohrbach, in July 2019 there was a Committee of the Whole meeting where the issue was discussed and the conversation centered around waiting until they got the vote results on non-medical marijuana.
Then Initiative 190 was passed in November 2020 which legalized non-medical marijuana.
Rohrbach told city council members at their January 26th COW meeting that Police Chief Oster estimates that there are at least 52 bills already under consideration by the legislature that would have some impact on non-medical marijuana.
“So what staff’s proposing,” said Rohrbach, “is to continue the temporary prohibition on medical marijuana dispensaries in the city until we can get more clarity from the legislature and until we can get rule-making from the Department of Revenue.” He said the rule-making language in I-190 would require that it be done by October of 2021 and that, if the City did nothing between now and then, things would default to state rules.
“So that kind of forces our hand there, “said Rohrbach, “but from staff’s perspective, if we develop separate regulations for medical and non-medical marijuana, it makes sense to have those as consistent as possible. Right now we just don’t have the legal or regulatory guidance to do that in an informed manner. So what we want to do is wait and see what comes out of the legislature and in another three months we may have a pretty good guide.” He estimated the city staff might have some recommendation for the council by fall.
Asked if there was any benefit to doing something before the state rules go into effect, Rohrbach said, “As far as doing something pre-emptive about non-medical marijuana, I don’t think we should be jumping out of the gate. If we try to put some rules in place now, we could end up being in violation of state law when they do decide about non-medical.”
Rohrbach suggested that, regarding regulating medical marijuana, “I think there is some local control there, but there is not a lot of clarity as to the level of local control that will exist for non-medical marijuana. So that’s why we want to hold off, because we don’t know what’s going to come out of this session. Will local jurisdictions have the ability to determine where they will locate? Will there be dispensaries in cities? There are just all these unknowns. So we just want to wait and get some clarity and be consistent.”
“I understand that medical and non-medical are separate issues, but in the end it’s pretty much looking at the same thing. It’s marijuana dispensaries in the city,” he said.
Amanda Davis, owner of a medical marijuana dispensary located just outside the Hamilton city limits, disagrees. She said right now medical marijuana dispensaries are regulated by the state and may legally operate but they cannot yet sell non-medical marijuana until the legislature figures out the laws governing it. She said right now Ravalli County has 17 dispensaries, so the city should not expect a landslide of new dispensaries for medical purposes. Then, she said, “you might decide to keep the recreational sales outside the city.” She thought the legislature was probably going to handle the sales differently and possibly tax the recreational sales more.
“Medical shouldn’t be kept out because you are afraid of recreational coming in,” she said. “Medical should be allowed in the city limits. Maybe now is the time to make it so that you can have medical marijuana in town and the later determine if you want recreational.”
A resolution continuing the temporary prohibition of medical marijuana dispensaries or storefronts within the city limits was on the agenda for the city council meeting scheduled for February 2.
Michael Howell can be contacted at [email protected] or 406-239-4838.